The following is a recent university essay dealing with the "Germanness" of German history. Not sure if it's of interest to anyone, but it seemed worth adding on the off-chance you're willing to suffer through three-thousand words of my ill-considered rambling. Please pick holes in it as you desire; I can only learn! “German history” can be defined in simply geographic-political terms, as the history of an area of Central Europe corresponding roughly to the borders of the Holy Roman Empire of the medieval and early modern periods, and to the Confederation, Empire and Republics which subsequently occupied the greater part of that territory, which were identified by contemporaries as “Germany”. But “German history” is commonly understood as a national history, as the history of a national community enduring across centuries, held together by a more fundamental association than the often very loose bonds of political confederation. “German-ness” is in this view a characteristic of a national community rather than institutions, emerging through a collective awareness of the possession of a shared language and history. Nationalists readily concede that we cannot take for granted that a given population is possessed of any such collective identity; the necessity of drawing out a population’s “national consciousness” is the first point in any nationalist programme. But this assumes that the consciousness is simply latent, implicit in the sharing of certain essential experiences. Historians are obliged to examine critically such claims to historical community, and consequently the possibility of talking about a “national history” in Germany. We must investigate the extent to which “Germans” understood their experiences in shared terms, and the extent to which these experiences were distinctive from that of “non-Germans”. Central to the German understanding of national identity was language. Native possession of the German language identified a person as “German” as opposed to “French”, “Polish” or “Italian”, and bound them to a German national community stretching from the Tyrol to Holstein and from Alsace to Prussia. Philosophers of nationality such as a Johann Gottfried Herder understood language as a tangible expression of shared experiences and ways of thinking, and believed that certain syntactical and semantic characteristics could be identified across regional dialects which identified their speakers as possessed of Germanness, of values and patterns of thought distinctive to Germans, and distinguished them from non-speakers and non-native speakers, who correspondingly possessed their own distinct “national” characteristics. In practice, however, these dialects were diverse often to the point of mutual intelligibility in their spoken form; it is unlikely, when Herder wrote in the late eighteenth century, that an Austrian, a Rheinlander, a Pomeranian and a Yiddish-speaking Lithuanian could comfortably carry on a conversion in their vernacular dialects. What allowed individuals of diverse linguistic backgrounds to identify themselves as “German” was shared reference to literary dialect of High German. Although literary forms of German had existed since the Medieval period, the emergence of a single, shared written language was a product of the print revolution of the 16th century. The newfound ability to produce documents with unprecedented speed and cheapness allowed the emergence of a mass reading-public, which in turn contributed to the decline of Latin as a standard literary form. The historian of national identity Benedict Anderson describes how these developments encouraged a localisation of perspective in European literature, in part because so much of the new reading public was comprised of people with geographically more limited perspectives than the nobles and clerics who had formerly dominated European literature, but also because the assumed reading public of a text was no longer the universal Catholic church, sprawled across Europe and with outputs across Asia, Africa and the Americas, but a specifically “French”, “English” or “German” publics, tied to particular regions of Europe. At the same time, however, this typically meant a broadening of perspective on the part of individual readers, as the use of standardised written forms used across large areas both obliged and allowed readers to imagine themselves as part of a community of readers extending beyond the traditional horizons of the local district. This collective experience as readers, engaged in a shared literary and cultural discourse, encouraged Europeans imagine themselves as sharing more than just the printed page, but common patterns of life and ways of thinking. A reader could begin to think of themselves not simply as a Frankfurter, Berliner or a Bremener, but as a “German”. The Protestant Reformation here emerges as a crucial touchstone for proponents of German national identity. The dissemination of a shared written German in the 16th century owed much to the rapid dissemination of the writings of Martin Luther, above all his translation of the Bible into German, which made use of a High German dialect typical of Upper Saxony. Leopold von Ranke, the great 19th century historian, shares Anderson’s attention to the relationship between a reading community and national identity, albeit in an inverted form, and discusses the German Reformation as the first entry of a self-conscious Germany into European history. By producing a body of high literature that was both particularly German and broadly German, that was both written directly into German (rather than as vernacularized Latin texts) and expressed extra-local concerns, Ranke argues, the early Lutheran movement brought into being a self-conscious German literary community, uniquely capable of speaking on behalf of the German nation. In practice, however, the religious fissures of the Reformation do not break down along the “national” lines imagined by Ranke, with around half of Germans remaining Roman Catholic, and many adopting non-Lutheran Protestantisms such as Calvinism and Anabaptism, fracturing much of popular “German” print culture along confessional lines. Particularly problematic for proponents of German nationhood, the Calvinists of the Netherlands possessed a strong and independent print culture in the local Low Franconian dialect, which paid little reference to High German print culture or its Lutheran canon. The lack of any non-arbitrary reasoning by which Dutch could be excluded from “Germany”, while speakers Franconian and Low Saxon dialects more closely related to Dutch than to High German regarded as unambiguously “German”, sheds light on the often-flimsy distinction between “language” and “dialect”, and the extent to which it was informed by political aspirations, rather than, as in the nationalist ideal, the reverse. This became particularly pointed when addressing Germany’s sizeable Ashkenazi Jewish minority, the majority of which spoke either local dialects of German or Yiddish, a dialect of Rhenish High German written using the Hebrew alphabet, which in strictly linguistic terms would make them as “German” as any other speaker of those dialects , yet even liberal German Christians would often insist that Jews continued to form a distinct “Jewish nation”, geographically co-existent with “Germany”, but culturally insoluble to the extent it remained attached to a distinct identity and religion. What emerges here is the endurance of local or sectional identities, robust despite the contempt of proponents of a shared German nationality. The Dutch example is the most pronounced; while some German writers imagined a Germany stretching from “the Meuse to the Memel”, encompassing the Netherlands (as well as the Franconian-speakers of the duchies of Limburg and Luxembourg), the stubborn refusal of the “Netherlandish Germans” to see themselves as such forcing acknowledgement of a distinct “Dutch nation”. None the less, regional patriotisms continued to wield considerable influence elsewhere in regions identified as unambiguously “German”. Nationalist festivals are well known as focal points for emerging German national identity, but regional festivals proliferated in the same period, celebrating local traditions, regional identities, and loyalty to ruling dynasties. The first major regional festival, the Cannstatter Volkfest held in 1818 near Stuttgart by Württembergish patriots, attracting almost thirty thousand people, as many as the much-celebrated nationalist Hambach Festival of 1832, while by the late 19th century, the Wittelsbach-sponsored Munich Oktoberfest would regularly attract visitors in the hundreds of thousands. New editions of classic texts emerged which presented counter-nationalist accounts of their authors, such as a complete edition of the works Gottfired Wilhelm Liebniz presenting him as a Hanoverian rather than German philosopher , while Saxon commemorations of Martin Luther emphasised his personal ties to the House of Wettin and the particularly Saxon dialect of his writing. Particularist patriots made use of a vocabulary and symbolism consciously parallel to those of German nationalists, espousing loyalty to the Saxon or Württembergish “Fatherland”, or rivalling “Germania”, the feminine personification of the German nation, with local variants such as “Bavaria” or “Hammonia”. (p.268) In Saxony, the Wettin kings began to replace the traditional style of “Wettinfürst” (“Wettin prince” with “Sachsenfürst” (“Saxon prince”, echoing nationalist calls for a “King of Germans”. In the far South-West, German-speakers of Switzerland remained resolutely attached to their independent, multi-lingual confederation, oblivious to Romantic salutes to the “Land of Tell” as an integral part of the German homeland. The romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist, although himself a nationalist, acknowledged the contradictions of identity found in 19th century Germany, imagining a young nationalist confronting his father with an assertion of German nationality, and the father’s indignant reply that the son was born in Meissen and is therefore a Saxon, tartly observing that this mythical land of “Germany” can be found on no map, and its people in no census. The persistence of regional and state identities becomes most pointed when we look at ethnic non-Germans living under states dominated by ethnic German rulers, particularly in Hohenzollern Prussia and Hapsburg Austria. To speakers of Slavic languages, who predominated on the Eastern edges of the German Confederation, participation in a German national community often held little attraction, but this did not mean that they would default automatically to a competing ethnic nationalism. In Prussia, loyalties tended to develop along confessional and traditional rather than ethnic lines. For the Lithuanians and Masurians (Polish-speaking Protestants) of East Prussia, loyalty to the Lutheran Church and Prussian crown took priority over ethnic solidarity with Catholic subjects of the Russian Tsar. They were able to call upon their historical ties to the ducal crown of Prussia against German prejudice, arguing that they were not only on an equal footing with ethnically-German Prussians, but that as loyal Staroprusaki (“Old Prussians”, they had priority in the state over the newly-Prussian Germans of Hanover, Westphalia and the Rhineland, unreliable newcomers whatever language they happened to speak. Similarly, the Sorbs of Brandenburg and Kashubs of Pomerania, Lutherans and subjects of Prussia-Brandenburg, regarded themselves as unambiguously “Prussian”, invoking old loyalties to the “Duke of Cassubians and Wends” , in spite of their ethnic ties to the Sorbs of Silesia and the Kashubs of Royal Prussia, Catholics and (until partition) subjects of the Kingdom of Poland. In the Hapsburg Empire, even proponents of ethnic self-government often posed their demands in imperials terms, for “national autonomy” within the empire rather than for “national independence” outside it. When František Palacký, a leader of the Czech national movement, was invited by the all-German Vorparlament (Pre-parliament) to attend the 1848 Parliament at Frankfurt as a delegate for the Kingdom of Bohemia, he refused on the grounds that “natural and historical reasons propel me to turn, not to Frankfurt, but to Vienna”. Even in the fractious former-Ottoman territories of the Balkan peninsula, many looked to Vienna as a source of supreme government, such as the anonymous Bosnian Muslim writing in the German-language Sarajevoer Tagblatt, who espoused a pro-Hapsburg position against the rising Yugoslav movement, which the writer derides as a chauvinistic “Great Serbia nationalism”, arguing that the imperial state was uniquely capable administering the diverse ethnic and religious groups of the Hapsburg Balkans. Imperial reciprocation for these sentiments increased in the late 19th century as the symbolic ejection of Austria from “Germany” in 1871 encouraged a renewed emphasis on dynastic and imperial patriotism, even towards a dynastically-orientated “Greater Austrian nationalism”. Aurel Popovici, a Hapsburg loyalist of Romanian ethnicity, developed a proposal for a “United States of Greater Austria”, which would see Austria-Hungary reorganised as a Nationalitätenbundesstaat (“Federative State of Nationalities”, a federation of ethnic states under a central government in Vienna, a program which quickly gained popularity among the confessional and pan-national Catholic Social Movement and, in a republican form, by the Social Democrats. In both Austria and Prussia, what was “a German state” to some was merely “the state” to others. Yet it was not the case that regional and sectional identities precluded identification with “Germany”. Pointed expressions of regional identity were often intended to assert an independence from Prussia and Austria, rather than from Germany, and could be used to claim autonomy within a German national state rather than separation from it. Indeed, the collective grumblings of, Bavarians, Thuringians and Rheinlanders about Prussian arrogance could serve to develop feelings of solidarity between historically-diverse populations, tying Bavarian peasants to Rheinish industrialists and Protestant Bremeners to Swabian Catholics. Regional loyalties could also be expressed in nationalistic terms, as when the Hanoverian particularist Maximillian Harden asserted against Prussian claims of national leadership that “Lower Saxony is the most specifically German, and its inhabitants are the only real Germans, in that they cultivate heimisch [homely] ways”. When Konrad Ardenauer famously remarked of the Elbe, “here Asia begins”, he expressed an old tradition of viewing a pluralistic Germany in opposition to a domineering, only half-German Prussia. This intertwining of identities could even acquire the status of state policy, especially in Bavaria, where the Wittelsbach monarchs (before and after unification) styled themselves as the voice of the “Third Germany”, the small states between Prussia and Austria, assigning to Munich a mission every bit as “national” as those attributed to Berlin or Vienna. This new overlapping of identities was often expressed as a contrast between membership in a local Stamm, “tribe”, and a national Volk, “people” or “nation”, which would allow our Meisseners to reconcile as members of the "Saxon tribe of the German nation. Further still, the persistence of identities tied to particular civic, state and dynastic loyalties forced yet more pluralistic understanding of personal identity, as did the movements of populations from rural to industrial areas that severed the identity of home and residence. An unexpected product of this pluralism was the opening of a new space for German Jews in the national discourse: traditionally faced with a choice between assimilation and isolation, it was now possible to argue that the Ashkenazim represented a German “tribe” as much as any other, with as deeply and authentically “German” a history. By the 20th century, an individual could be a Jew, a Kölner, a Rhinelander, a Prussian and a German, neither identity excluding or wholly containing the others. A sophisticated expression of the complex layering of identities in 19th century Germany is the painting “The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family Still Living in Accordance with Old Customs” by the German Jewish painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. The painting depicts a young solider in the blue-grey of the PrussianLandwehr, returned from the Wars of Liberation against the French Empire to his family home, a familiar scene of domestic patriotism made distinctive by the family’s evident adherence to Orthodox Judaism. Conventionally bourgeois dress is combined with Jewish headgear, while on the walls Jewish religious iconography hangs alongside a portrait of Frederick the Great. Oppenheim shows us a view of history which is at the same time German, Prussian and Jewish, in which identities of nationality, region, state, ethnicity and religion intertwine. It gives us access to a history which, by the nineteenth century, was neither simply German or not-German, but in which “Germany” represents ones layer of collective experience among many.